Understanding the Different Types of Criminal Record Checks

Understanding the Different Types of Criminal Record Checks

Criminal background checks are critical for employers and organizations to mitigate risks when hiring or accepting volunteers. However, not all searches are created equal.

The different types of searches vary by the level of government searches and the information reported. Understanding these differences is essential for organizations developing comprehensive and compliant background check protocols.

Name-Based Checks

A name-based check searches for criminal record information using an individual’s identifiers (name, date of birth, gender, and social security number). This is the most common type of background check conducted.

Every state and the FBI maintains criminal history repository systems that contain records of arrests and convictions. These are submitted to the system by county clerk offices, prosecutor offices, and another judicial offices throughout the country as cases pass through the court system.

Background screening companies use this system to perform name-based inquiries for their clients. A criminal can feasibly hide convictions by changing their name; aliases may not be reflected in the database.

This can lead to false positives for a background check. It is important to note that many states have evolved to a point where they allow authorized entities to run name-based inquiries without submitting fingerprints through the CHRI system.

This process, called “self-record review, ” will enable organizations to run a name-based check for a candidate or employee through the state’s online portal. The results will depend on the state and may or may not include a search for child abuse and neglect records. 

Opting for a third-party provider for various types of a criminal record check is crucial due to their sophisticated systems, which are often more updated and comprehensive than traditional methods.

These third-party services leverage advanced technology and databases, ensuring a more thorough examination of criminal records to provide employers with accurate and up-to-date information about potential hires.

Choosing a third-party solution thus enhances the reliability of the background check process, contributing to a more informed and secure hiring decision for businesses.

Sex Offender Registry Checks

Whether you’re hiring for a retail job or a position that will interact with the public in any way, you can’t afford to hire someone who has committed a sexually-based crime. Fortunately, a criminal background check that includes sex offender registry searches can help you avoid this mistake.

A sex offender registry check looks at individual state and territorial registries for people who have been convicted of crimes that require registration, such as downloading child pornography or statutory rape.

The results of this search are included in a national criminal database search, which compiles data from multiple sources to provide the most comprehensive picture of an individual’s history.

Most states have exceptions to the prohibition against using sex offender registry information when making employment decisions. These typically include businesses that work with children, the elderly, or disabled people (like adoption agencies, childcare centers, and community care facilities) and public-facing companies like governmental agencies, humane societies, and financial institutions.

The results of a sex offender registry search can reveal conviction dates, types, and locations, the status of the offender’s registration, and the date of their last verification. You can also find the name, date of birth, and gender of a person on the list.

This information can be precious when considering a candidate’s suitability for your business. Still, it’s important to evaluate additional criminal and work history data and consider how the offender’s conviction may have impacted their behavior in the past and if there is evidence of rehabilitation since then.

Federal Background Checks

Understanding the distinctions between these types of checks can help you develop background screening programs that are comprehensive, accurate, and compliant. It is also essential for mitigating organizational risks associated with improper use of this data, which can have severe ramifications for you and your employees.

A county criminal check searches county-level court records for convictions and reportable non-convictions associated with a candidate.

It typically covers convictions dating back seven years and reports felony and misdemeanor records (disorderly conduct, public intoxication, theft less than $500, arson, manslaughter, murder, and counterfeiting are examples of misdemeanors; robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, grand theft, and other felony crimes are reported on a federal search).

A federal background check is a nationwide search for offenses prosecuted at the national level, such as tax evasion, bank robbery, kidnapping, and counterfeiting. These records are stored in the United States district courts and can be accessed through either the district or appellate courts.

National Background Checks

National background checks search millions of digital records across thousands of jurisdictions in the United States. They include terrorist and sex offender databases and provide a list of infractions, misdemeanors, and felony convictions, as well as open and pending cases.

This is often the first step in a criminal background check process, with local searches conducted later to scour county and state records that may have been missed. National checks are a good choice if hiring someone to work in multiple locations.

They can identify a person’s past addresses, flagging records for further investigation. However, they don’t cover everything a person has done, including documents that haven’t been digitized and convictions prosecuted at the federal level.

A national check can also take longer because some local laws restrict how far back you can search for records. For instance, some states have laws that limit the look-back period for convicted felonies to seven years. Understanding the distinctions between these criminal record checks can help you build a thorough, effective, and compliant hiring process.

Be sure to follow any applicable local, state, and federal guidelines and consider the needs of your business when implementing background check policies. This way, you can be confident that you’re making the best decision for your company and the safety of your employees and customers.


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